Travelling by Trolley in Mississippi: Laurel

Today’s post is Chapter 5 in our series re-printing Frank Brooks’ “Travelling by Trolley in Mississippi: Stories about Streetcars.” View other posts in the series at the “Streetcars” tab.

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LAUREL. Before departing on their separate runs, cars are lined up downtown at the corner of Oak and Magnolia Streets.

Mississippi was not one of the states which boasted an honest to goodness system of interurban railways, simply because Mississippi has never had a dense concentration of people in connecting cities who need frequent, fast public transportation between them. The Gulfport and Mississippi Coast Traction Company’s operation appears to come close to being an interurban. The other company which may be thought of as being a small interurban operation was the line between Laurel and Ellisville. A delightful park about half way between those two towns provided abundant patronage from both cities during the warm months.

Local streetcar service began running in Laurel in November of 1912. The interurban line to Ellisville was opened in August of 1913. The new company was named Laurel Light and Railway Company and its offices, power station and repair shops were located in Laurel. In addition to the streetcar service, the company also provided the community with a general lighting and power business. Equipment included 13 passenger trolleys, 1 motor freight and 1 service car. These cars traveled over 14 miles of track. The separate lines intersected at Oak and Magnolia Streets in downtown Laurel. From that point the lines made their ways outward to 4 terminals, not including the Ellisville line. The longest city line ran north on First Avenue to 19th Street, where it swung over to Second Avenue and ended at the Marathon Mill Pond. There was a short section of double track on First Avenue for cars to pass each other. Local trolleys left the downtown intersection point at 20 minute intervals for runs on the various lines within the city. The interurban run posted an hourly schedule of departures for Ellisville. That service left from the Central Avenue corner on Ellisville Boulevard, where a waiting room was provided in the old Coca Cola building.

The interurban line ran parallel to the Southern Railway between Laurel and Ellisville. Upon its arrival in Ellisville, the trolley line crossed the steam line, went through downtown Ellisville and continued to the junior college where it terminated.

This operation was sold to the Mississippi Power Company in 1925. Three years later, that company tried to abandon the service to Ellisville, but later withdrew that proposal. Service then continued on the interurban run for several more years. However, the carbarn burned in 1934, and that event proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back because the cars never ran again after that fire. According to those that remember, the Laurel system was a grand little operation in a delightful small city!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Frank A. Brooks, Jr. has loved trains and streetcars for as long as he can remember.  He and his wife Jo Anne are parents of 2 children and grandparents of 4.  During his active ministry of  43 years in the Presbyterian Church he served in Kentucky, Mississippi, Virginia and Arkansas.  In retirement, Dr. and Mrs. Brooks live in her hometown Corinth, MS.



Categories: Architectural Research, Ellisville, Laurel

8 replies

  1. I am attempting to research Laurel Light and Railway Company. Their rail line was surveyed by a Mr. William H. Bell circa 1912. Do you know where I could obtain a copy of that survey?
    Thanks

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  2. I am new to MissPres and have just seen this post. I love it. Magnolia and Oak streets are quite familiar to me, but they looked much different in the seventies when I was a kid. Thank you for posting this.

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  3. You’re welcome and thank you to Mr. Frank Brooks for allowing us to reprint his book! It really opened my eyes to this era which has been so erased from our cities’ landscapes.

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  4. Laurel trolley cars were victims of the automobile, the tire companies, with a light salting of the oil companies helping to kill them off across the nation. I wonder what was the fate of the cars themselves. Here in Houston, Texas many of the cars ended up in South America where some are still in operation.

    Also who were the owners of the Laurel trolley company? Did any of the paper work of the company survive?

    When doing research on the Lindsey 8 wheel log wagon eons ago I met a couple of people who worked for the trolley company. They said employment with the company was a good experience. I even met a couple of “young boys” who had enjoyed pulling the electrical connection pole away from the wire to stop the trolley car at inappropriate places on the routes!!! At the time I talked to them they were “young” only in spirit. A few riders I knew remembered the woven cane seats that offered “cool” seating in the heat of summer.

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    • “Who were the owners of the Laurel trolley company?”

      Company names were:

      Laurel Electric Power and Light Company (to 1912),
      Laurel Light and Railway Company (1912-1924),
      Mississippi Power and Light Company (from 1924).

      “Did any of the paper work of the company survive?”

      That is a very good question – but, at this date, I would have to say, “probably not.”

      There are several cases of records of streetcar companies, once owned by power companies, that have been preserved and are accessible to the public. One very good example: a predecessor company of Puget Sound Energy (Washington state) once owned several electric railways in western Washington. The records are preserved at the University of Washington (Seattle) and Western Washington University (Bellingham).

      This did not “always” take place – unfortunately. The records of the Spokane (WA) streetcar system were transferred to the new bus company when the power company sold the system (1930s). The foremost expert on Spokane streetcars (the late Charles Mutschler) told me that he’d concluded that the records were eventually destroyed.

      I know that there is a Georgia Power Co collection in at Atlanta university library, and am told that there is an Alabama Power Co “archive” in Birmingham. The first place for a “next generation” researcher to start would be Mississippi Power Co. But I tend to believe that Mississippi Power handed the records of its streetcar operations to the new owners when it sold them off.

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  5. Hmm . . . I might as well keep going on the subject of Laurel streetcars.

    This system does not appear in the US Census Bureau compilations for 1902 and 1907, simply because it had not opened by then.

    Thereafter (1912, 1917, 1922, 1927), it was grouped together with “the rest” of Mississippi’s streetcar systems in the Census Bureau surveys. Years ago, I came up with the bright idea of estimating passenger traffic statistics for systems where no such data could be found, based on population and system length. This actually does work – after a fashion.

    For Laurel, I got the system length statistics from . . . somewhere. I might have found these in one of the “manuals” (e.g. Moody’s, Poor’s). Or, I might have measured these, starting with the maps by Russell Powers in Dr. Brooks’ book. At any rate: 5.5 miles for the “city” system, and 7.6 miles for the line to Ellisville.

    Annual passenger traffic:

    1917, very roughly 1 million.
    1922, very roughly 1 million.
    1927, very roughly 750,000.
    1932, very roughly 400,000.

    I believe that the Laurel – Ellisville line might have been closed by 1932, but I have no documentation.

    The carbarn fire that brought an end to this system took place in March 1934.

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  6. Wasn’t Stuart C. Irby a big mover and shaker in building Mississippi Power Company? In 1933, Mayor Tatum issued an executive order for the “coke gas” line infrastructure that ran the city’s utilities to be removed. Southern Natural Gas from Louisiana was waiting at the gates of the city to move in, but Tatum was able to buy the Rankin Gas field “cheap” at a public auction and build the pipeline to supply natural gas along the route to the Hattiesburg area. Must remember this was during the economic depression and FDR ‘s RCF Corporation. Maybe Tatum had “banker” connections? Historian Web H. may have archival materials on the transfer of the assets of Laurel Light and Railway Company to Mississippi Power Co..

    https://www.newspapers.com/clip/55814101/l-hall-on-an-evening-ride-with-wife-on/

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